Blogs  |  10.15.2020

Challenger Center Employees Remember Visiting Centers as Students

One of the most exciting and rewarding moments for Challenger Center and our Centers across the country is getting updates from our alumni and seeing where they are in their current lives and how their visit to a Challenger Learning Center impacted them. Out of the 5.5 million children that have been impacted at our Centers, we have three alumni working in our headquarters office in Washington, DC!

Ellen Howes (Major Gifts Officer), Katherine Li (Associate, Education Technology), and Emily Apgar (Program Manager, Education), all visited Challenger Learning Centers as students. We caught up with them and asked them about their experiences.

Which Center did you visit and how old were you when you went?

  • Ellen: “I visited the Challenger Learning Center at the Christa McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University in Massachusetts. I was in fifth grade.”
  • Katherine: “I visited the Buehler Challenger & Science Center in Paramus, NJ when I was in 8th
  • Emily: “I went to the Challenger Learning Center in Alexandria, VA. I was in 7th grade at the time.”

What do you remember most from your experience?

  • Ellen: “I mostly remember the activities in the spacecraft room, and truly feeling like I was on a mission somewhere up in the stars. There was one activity where we had to move a mechanical arm inside a plexiglass box using controllers in front of us, and the Flight Director walked over and complimented me on my hand-eye coordination. It was one small moment, but it really stuck with me and made me feel accomplished.”

Have you always been interested in STEM?

  • Katherine: “I have and going to the Challenger Learning Center in Paramus really just added fuel to the fire that kept me interested and involved in STEM.”

Did the visit to the Challenger Learning Center affect your decision to pursue a STEM degree or career? If yes, how?

  • Emily: “Absolutely! I started saying I wanted to be an astronaut which continued for years. When I was about 17, I learned that NASA has height requirements, and I am actually just one inch too short to apply to NASA as an astronaut. I was genuinely heartbroken about that discovery. So, I switched my career prospects to science education. I really enjoyed not just my experience at the Challenger Learning Center, but also other STEM education programs like visiting science museums, etc. I wanted to be able to create similar experiences for students. I decided to pursue STEM education and completed a dual degree in Life Science and in Education.”

Do you use STEM lessons/principles in your job every day? If so, how?

  • Ellen: “Collaboration is an important part of my job, and that’s something Challenger Center actively promotes through its activities. There are always opportunities to problem-solve, think on my feet, and test different approaches and solutions in my role.”

Why is STEM education so critical at a young age?

  • Ellen: “There’s no one “look” that all scientists fit into. Anyone, of any background and gender, can be a scientist. The sooner children can see that the more likely they are to stick with STEM and pursue it throughout their education.”

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue STEM degrees or careers?

  • Emily: “You will be challenged, and you are capable of rising to that challenge. You won’t know everything or understand everything right away and that’s okay. Be okay with failure as part of the problem-solving process. Also, READ as much and as widely as you can! It helps!”
  • Katherine: “Get involved in any opportunity that is given or open to you and never stop learning about all areas of STEM because you never know what area you will really be interested in and where it will lead to.”
  • Ellen: “Keep going and stay curious! Even if a subject seems hard right now, you’ll be able to understand it if you ask questions and ask for help. We’re all working together towards the same goals, so it’s good to raise questions and seek support when you need it.”